Columbia Engineering Announces Winning Proposals for Interdisciplinary Research and Translational Research

Jun 06 2018

Columbia Engineering Dean Mary C. Boyce and Senior Executive Vice Dean Shih-Fu Chang announced eight winning proposals for interdisciplinary and translational research, and second-year funding for a 2017 winner. The 2018 SIRS (SEAS Interdisciplinary Research Seed) funding and 2018 STAR (SEAS Translational Acceleration Research) funding respectively support bold, new, collaborative research and the translation of early stage research to real-world implementation.

This is the third year that Columbia Engineering faculty have received these research awards.  Eight proposals were selected from 28 submissions following independent, confidential review by a group of the School’s faculty. Three proposals also received support from the Blavatnik Acceleration Fund for Innovation in Health, awarded for the first time.  In all, 56 Columbia Engineering faculty, along with five collaborators, submitted proposals.

“This year we encouraged faculty to collaborate on topics related to the five thematic areas of our strategic vision, “Columbia Engineering for Humanity,” said Mary C. Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “All of the proposals were excellent examples of the promise of interdisciplinary research, with collaborations across the School and University and even with the Fashion Institute of Technology.”

The eight winning proposals and the faculty are listed below.

  • Christoph Juchem, associate professor of biomedical engineering and radiology, and J. Thomas Vaughan, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Magnetic Resonance Research Initiative, were selected for their proposal, “Integrated Multi-Coil B0 and Radio-Frequency Technology for 1H Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Cervical Spine Pathology in Multiple Sclerosis.” They aim to establish the biomedical analysis of the human spinal cord with in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy to investigate the pathological processes early in the development of MS disability and find diagnostic biomarkers for early identification and guided treatment. This proposal also received support from the Blavatnik Acceleration Fund.
  • Andreas Hielscher, professor of biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, and radiology, and Ioannis Kymissis, associate professor of electrical engineering, were chosen for their proposal: “Wearable Optical Brassiere for Breast Cancer Therapy Monitoring.” The overall goal of this proposal is to develop a brassiere that contains source and detectors for monitoring the effects of breast cancer treatment during neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The project, which also received Blavatnik Acceleration Fund support, builds on expertise and previous efforts in the Hielscher and Kymissis laboratories.  Their team also includes Dr. Dawn Hershman from Columbia’s Departments of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, and Prof. Theanne Spiros, assistant professor at New York Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, University Professor and Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Medical Sciences, was selected for her translational research proposal: “Regeneration of Acutely Injured Human Lungs for Transplantation.” She also received support from the Blavatnik Acceleration Fund.  Vunjak-Novakovic described her project, “Our goal is to increase the pool of donor lungs for transplantation, which is the only definitive treatment for patients with end-stage lung disease, by recovering the acutely injured lungs. We learned that the gas exchange in these rejected lungs needs to be improved by just 10 to 20 percent, and that the injury is largely located in the airway, and that blood supply is critical for lung survival and function. We went on to develop a highly innovative, imaging-based technology for targeted cell therapy of the injured regions of the lung, while preserving intact lung vasculature and surrounding lung tissue. To allow time for cell therapy, we also developed a cross-circulation technology that extends the support of lungs ex vivo from hours to days. The project will allow us to start translating this technology, and to develop a protocol for clinical studies, in collaboration with our colleagues at Columbia Medical Center.”
  • Jingyue Ju, Samuel Ruben-Peter G. Viele Professor of Engineering in the chemical engineering department, and Samuel Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering, collaborated on a proposal, “Platform for Single Molecule Sequencing by Synthesis Using Fluorescence Energy Transfer Dyes.” According to Ju, the goal of this project is to use a molecular engineering approach, fluorescence energy transfer principle, and microfluidics to pursue the research and development of a single molecule DNA sequencing by synthesis platform for a wide range of applications in biomedical research and precision medicine.
  • P. James Schuck, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and James Hone, Wang-Fon Jen Professor of Mechanical Engineering, had their proposal, “Engineering a Solution to the ‘Resolution Gap’ for Probing Local Optoelectronic Properties in Low-dimensional Materials,” chosen.  Schuck explained, “The development of novel low-dimensional materials and devices lies at the forefront of advanced technologies in fields spanning solar light harvesting to quantum information to neuroscience. However, many of the defining optoelectronic properties in these low-D structures are determined by materials physics and processes that occur at the (single-digit) nanometer length scale. Their direct investigation and elucidation – crucial for future applications – therefore requires the ability to probe light-matter interactions at a resolution an order of magnitude better than what is generally achievable with existing nano-optical approaches. Here we propose a strategy for achieving single-nanometer optical resolution by developing a breakthrough capability termed Atomic Energy Transfer Scanning Nano-optical Microscopy.”
  • Computer Science Professor Luca Carloni and Matei Ciaocarlie, assistant professor in mechanical engineering, were selected for their proposal, “Embedded Computing for Embodied Learning.”  Their research aims to embed computational power, in highly distributed fashion, inside a robot's body. The traditional paradigm calls for any data from the robot's sensors to be centralized to one powerful computer, often sitting outside the robot's body, in order to run learning algorithms that require high computing power. “By distributing powerful, energy-efficient embedded computer platforms throughout the robot's body, we can process sensor data right where it's harvested, and use it to develop new motor skills,” said Ciaocarlie. “We will test this research on robots designed to move through debris and clutter, in disaster response or search-and-rescue operations.”
  • Daniel Esposito, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Shiho Kawashima, associate professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, had their proposal, “Production of CO2- Negative Concrete from Seawater-derived Raw Materials,” selected.  Their research project aims to develop a new process for manufacturing cement that can be powered by renewable energy and has the potential to significantly reduce global manmade CO2 emissions. “In contrast to conventional cement manufacturing, which starts with carbon-containing limestone as the key source material, our breakthrough process will harvest feedstock materials from alkali earth metal ions (Mg2+ and Ca2+), which have high natural abundances in seawater,” said Esposito. The harvesting process will be driven by membraneless electrochemical reactors developed in co-PI Esposito’s lab, and the resulting Mg- and Ca-based source materials will be fed into emerging additive manufacturing cement processing schemes by Kawashima.
  • Nanfang Yu, associate professor of applied physics, and Changxi Zheng, associate professor of computer science, have proposed an “Inverse Design of Flat Optics.” Yu explained that flat optics introduces abrupt changes in optical properties over an ultrathin optical surface to manipulate light waves at will, and has a great potential to reduce the dimensions of optical instruments and to enable new optical functions.  “The design of flat optical devices is a major challenge as they consist of millions of dissimilar optical scatterers, each of which has a unique phase, amplitude, and/or polarization response as a function of wavelength,” Yu added.  “In this project, we will investigate an inverse-design computational algorithm that automatically and smartly determines the geometry of optical scatterers on a flat optical device given the required optical function.” The researchers will then use advanced nanofabrication techniques to realize a number of flat optical designs that can have disruptive technological impact, including colorful flat holograms, achromatic aberration-free flat lenses, radiative-cooling coatings, and invisible infrared tags.

In addition, Steve WaiChing Sun, assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, and Qiang Du, Fu Foundation Professor of Applied Mathematics, had their proposal, “Data-driven Multiscale Poromechanics – Meta-modeling Approach Enabled by Adaptive Ensemble Deep Learning,” funded for a second year.  Their objective for this project is to make robust, accurate, and reliable predictions for engineering applications related to porous media, such as hydraulic fracture, geothermal energy extraction, and nuclear waste disposal.  “Our goal is to develop a data-driven multiscale approach that both preserves the wisdom and insight instilled in human interpretation while leveraging the data mining technique only at the areas in which good interpretation is impossible due to the inherent complexity,” Sun said. “Our vision is to create a new revolutionary school of thought in which data science technology can be systematically applied to a computational model, conceptualized as a directed graph, for high-dimensional problems where conventional approach falls short.

In addition to Columbia Engineering’s seed funding, Columbia University’s Executive Vice President of Research, Michael Purdy, also provides RISE funding that supports interdisciplinary collaboration across fields and schools at Columbia University, and the Data Science Institute last year launched a research seed initiative with awards announced in December 2017.